Digital Workplace: Giving Your Employees a New Voice

By Pragati Verma, Contributor

When employees of Jones Lang LaSalle Inc. (JLL), one of the world’s largest commercial real estate services firms, need to schedule meetings, locate their colleagues, find open desks, reserve conference rooms, or check the campus shuttle schedule, they talk to JiLL.

“We are trying to offer employees the same digital experience that they have at home.”

—Vinay Goel, chief digital product officer, JLL

JiLL, their personal assistant, is an AI-powered, conversational smartphone app that acts as a virtual admin for all staff. Employees simply open the app and use its voice interface to say the task they need help with, such as, “Hey JiLL, find me an open desk on the third floor,” and it will inform them about all of the unused desks.

“Most people today have access to a whole bunch of web conferencing, home networking, chatbots, assistants, and smart speakers, ” says Vinay Goel, chief digital product officer at JLL. “However, at work we have siloed applications that don’t talk to each other and have disparate user interfaces. We are trying to offer employees the same digital experience that they have at home.”

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Here’s how the “intuitive, consumer-like experience” plays out: An employee might say something like, “JiLL, please set up a meeting for tomorrow and invite Bob and Nancy”; in response, JiLL will first ask for the agenda for the meeting and give some suggestions, such as “Quick Chat” or “Team meeting”; employees can then tap an option or choose a new title. “Over time, it learns from your behavior and who you generally tend to invite and which kind of meetings you set up to improve suggestions,” Goel adds.

“It’s much faster and more intuitive to just say your colleagues’ names than typing the names in a calendar app and then looking at their entire schedule to find open slots common to everyone invited to the meeting,” continues Goel. “Next, you would type in a bunch of names of conference rooms to check their availability in the common slots.”

Personal Assistant for Everyone

JLL isn’t the only company to think of providing virtual admins or, for that matter, using artificial intelligence to complement human capabilities. According to a recent research study by Dell Technologies and Vanson Bourne that surveyed 4,600 business leaders across more than 40 countries and 12 industries, 86 percent of respondents plan to use emerging technologies to improve workforce productivity by 2030.

“As enterprises move toward digital workplace technologies, all of their employees will be able to have their own personal digital assistants…to help the users explore value-added work and advance their careers.”

—Mrinal Rai, principal analyst, ISG

And AI-powered conversational virtual admins will be prominent among these technologies that will become popular in workplaces, according to the ISG Digital Workplace of the Future Study. “As enterprises move toward digital workplace technologies, all of their employees will be able to have their own personal digital assistants that can take over mundane tasks to help the users explore value-added work and advance their careers,” says Mrinal Rai, principal analyst at ISG. He expects one in five incident tickets in key business applications like human resources and expense management to be done through virtual assistants and about 35 to 40 percent via chatbots by next year.

It’s All About Employee Experience

According to Rai, enterprise IT help desks were the first to adopt virtual assistants. He says,“Most employees already had assistants like Siri, Cortana, or Google Assistant on their smartphones. Enterprise help desks integrated them into their systems to allow employees to raise tickets via their phones.” Several other business functions, such as human resources and customer relationship management, have shown strong interest in virtual assistants, he continues.

The rising popularity of conversational virtual admin platforms is not just changing how employees interact with workplace applications, it is also changing expectations from IT service providers. “Most IT contracts used to be about how many devices were to be managed and an assurance to keep IT up and running all the time,” Rai says. “In contrast, service level agreements now ask to ensure that their employees are getting a good experience out of IT.”

This drive for a better employee experience is what prompted JLL to develop JiLL. “When I started at JLL, we found that we could use technology to help our commercial real estate customers attract and retain talent,” remembers Goel. Currently, using JiLL internally, they plan to set up pilot projects with a few customers, such as Procter & Gamble later this year. They expect it to be available for all U.S. customers early next year. “These personalized and intelligent conversational interfaces that match employees’ consumer experiences,” he explains, “could forever change the future of work, and how employers attract and retain talent.”